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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
A cervical strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon in your neck. Tendons are strong tissues that connect muscles to bones. Common causes of cervical strains include a car accident, a fall, or a sports injury.
Return to the emergency department if:
- You have pain or numbness from your shoulder down to your hand.
- You have problems with your vision, hearing, or balance.
- You feel confused or cannot concentrate.
- You have problems with movement and strength.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
- You have increased swelling or pain in your neck.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
You may need any of the following:
- Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
- NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
- Muscle relaxers help decrease pain and muscle spasms.
- Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
- Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.
Manage your symptoms:
- Apply heat on your neck for 15 to 20 minutes, 4 to 6 times a day or as directed. Heat helps decrease pain, stiffness, and muscle spasms.
- Begin gentle neck exercises as soon as you can move your neck without pain. Exercises will help decrease stiffness and improve the strength and movement of your neck. Ask your healthcare provider what kind of exercises you should do.
- Gradually return to your usual activities as directed. Stop if you have pain. Avoid activities that can cause more damage to your neck, such as heavy lifting or strenuous exercise.
- Sleep without a pillow to help decrease pain. Instead, roll a small towel tightly and place it under your neck.
- Go to physical therapy as directed. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
Prevent neck injury:
- Drive safely. Make sure everyone in your car wears a seatbelt. A seatbelt can save your life if you are in an accident. Do not use your cell phone when you are driving. This could distract you and cause an accident. Pull over if you need to make a call or send a text message.
- Wear helmets, lifejackets, and protective gear. Always wear a helmet when you ride a bike or motorcycle, go skiing, or play sports that could cause a head injury. Wear protective equipment when you play sports. Wear a lifejacket when you are on a boat or doing water sports.
Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:
You may be referred to an orthopedist or physical therapies. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.